NBC boss Bob Greenblatt hints at deeper dive into streaming

Robert Greenblatt speaks at the NBCUniversal press tour in July 2012.
(Chris Haston / NBC)

NBC could be taking a bigger dive into the streaming waters in the next couple of months.

NBC boss Bob Greenblatt hinted as much during his appearance Tuesday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills.

The Comcast-owned network has certainly dipped its toe in the arena with the January launch of its niche, comedy-centric streaming service, SeeSo. The service — which can be used on mobile devices, laptops, tablets and Internet-connected TVs — is available for $3.99 a month.

But it’s not as bold a leap into the new world of TV as some of its broadcast competitors have taken. NBC and other networks are attempting to keep up with changing viewer habits and to fortify themselves as streaming players at a time when rising Internet TV networks such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu — which Comcast (NBC) co-owns along with Disney (ABC), and Fox — are making strides in the market.


CBS launched a $5.99-a-month video-on-demand and live-streaming digital channel, CBS All Access. The service has a library of thousands of show episodes, including “NCIS,” “The Good Wife” and classics such as “The Brady Bunch.” And plans are in the works for a remake of “Star Trek.”

ABC, meanwhile, recently relaunched its streaming service to include full seasons of 38 older shows and seven original, digital short-form series. Viewers can access the content from ABC apps for mobile and connected TV devices without signing in with a pay TV subscription.

Greenblatt said the so-called over-the-top, or OTT, delivery of programming, in which viewers can access content via the Internet and without subscribing to a traditional cable or satellite service, is something the NBC brass talk about all the time.

“We know this OTT-digital strategy is going to happen,” Greenblatt told reporters. “It’s happening in a lot of places already. It’s kind of where the audience is going and where they demand us to go. We spend a lot of time talking about what were going to do in the space. I’m not ready to talk about anything today definitively. [But] hopefully in the next couple of months we’’ll have something to talk about, which I think could be really exciting.”

Greenblatt said NBC is in a unique position given that it’s the only broadcast network owned by a cable company, the industry that is threatened by cord-cutting.

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“The OTT strategy is a direct competitive take on what the cable business is,” he said. “Whatever we do in the space, we want to do in a way that isn’t an affront to what the cable business and distributors want.”

“We’re trying to craft something that is a good thing for them as well,” he said. “We’re just not there yet. But I think in the very near future we’ll have something to talk about. In the meantime, we’re doing a lot of these other smaller, toe-in-the-water approaches. We’re trying to be in a lot of these spaces so that if the world moves in that direction, we can go there as well.”

The executive was joined by NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke for the roughly 45-minute Q&A. In addition to teasing its OTT plans, the two executives addressed the network’s troubled footing with comedies and suggested the strategy for comedies with broad appeal didn’t pan out.

But the network has hopes things can turn around, pointing to “Superstore” as a bright spot. The comedy, starring America Ferrera, will move to Thursdays this fall as a lead-in to Mike Schur’s new comedy, “The Good Place,”starring Ted Danson and Kristen Bell.

Salke said “Superstore” felt back to the core of NBC as a “smart, specific show that has heart. It’s not trying to please the whole world.” And demonstrating just how much shifting viewing habits are impacting what’s deemed a success, Greenblatt touted that when four months of viewing are factored in, the premiere episode of “Superstore” was viewed as many times as “The Voice’s” season opener.

“We’re defining success of these shows in a different way, and we’re watching the economics catch up with that,” Salke noted.

Not surprisingly, the NBC session included a Donald Trump question. The presidential hopeful’s name, just as it was during January’s press tour, was a topic of conversation. Greenblatt was asked, in a roundabout way, to address the network’s responsibility in the creating the Trump pop culture machine.

“It’s certainly interesting, and we do talk about it,” Greenblatt said. “’Bedtime for Bonzo’ helped [Ronald] Reagan become a national figure… we were happy to have a show that was doing really well with a guy who was a big TV star. It’s impossible to see where it would go from there. I think it surprised us all hat he would want to do this, but I guess that’s what’s great about this country.”

But Greenblatt also cautioned that “The Apprentice,” the show that made Trump a reality TV star, is unlikely to have spurred Trump’s current political ambitions.

“I don’t think there’s one correlation from one to the other,” he said.

Twitter: @villarrealy


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